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16 Little Changes You Can Make To Help Someone With Depression

Stay in touch but don't stifle them.

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1. Do a bit of research.

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If you're feeling a bit out of your depth when it comes to mental health, set aside time to do some reading. Don't worry about becoming an expert — remember you're not there to be a therapist!

It might be useful to read some people's firsthand experiences, such as 11 Things No One Tells You About Suffering From Depression In Your Twenties, 21 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Depressed, and 19 Things People Wish Their Friends Knew About Depression.

Make sure you don't stress yourself out by reading endless streams of blogposts and forum entries. Instead start with trusted mental health services. Mind has a great guide on how to help a friend or family member.

2. Prepare some questions.

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You might feel nervous to ask your friend exactly what's going on with them. Perhaps you feel like you don't really know what to say. A way around this is to prep some questions, but make sure you don't end up rattling them off in one go — that will just feel like an interrogation. Instead, write down some things you'd like to ask and bring them up when it feels right.

For example:

– How are you feeling today?

– How long have you been feeling like this?

– Did something specific happen or did it come on out of the blue?

– How can I best support you right now?

– Have you thought about getting help?

3. Stay in touch.

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Depression makes you believe you're a burden to yourself and everyone around you. This means your friend or partner might not initiate much contact with you, but don't give up on them. Check in to see how they're doing, even if they haven't responded to your previous messages. Try not to be over the top with your concern or dramatic; simply asking them if they're OK is good enough. Let them know you're thinking about them and that you absolutely don't see them as a burden.

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4. But try not to stifle them.

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You can't take your loved one's depression personally. If they're adamant they want some alone time, you need to give it to them. If you impose yourself too much, regardless of how good your intentions are, they're going to want to hide away even more.

Also be sure to manage your own expectations when you're communicating. Saying things like "It'll be better tomorrow" seems well-meaning but it might not feel true to your friend.

5. Be wary of texting or Facebook messaging.

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Be careful if you guys are communicating via your phone or computer. The situation may be a bit delicate and texts have a way of being more direct and curt than you intended. Your friend may be prone to misinterpreting everything you say. Express yourself clearly and stop texting if things are getting too confrontational. If it looks like they're taking things the wrong way, ask them what they're thinking as a way of checking in.

6. Take them outside.

Going for a walk around the park won't magically cure their depression but it'll make them see that they don't have to hide away all day. Depression is incredibly isolating, so having someone who will take you outside can feel amazing. Find spaces that are nonthreatening, like parks, gardens, and canal walkways.

7. Freshen up their living space.

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When you're depressed you stop looking after yourself and the space you live in. When I'm going through a severe episode my room is gross and mouldy, and there's rubbish and debris everywhere. Having someone who will help me throw away the rotting food, wash my dirty socks, or remind me to make my bed can lead me to feel like I’ve achieved something that day. Don't go in there armed with bleach and sponges. Don't expect you're going to make a drastic difference. But just a bit of help can make your friend feel like they're not drowning.

8. Encourage them to eat.

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Depression can affect your appetite in strange ways: Either you don't want to eat anything at all or you binge on things that aren't good for you. Having someone force you to eat an apple or down a kale smoothie isn’t going to be helpful, but having someone bring you a bowl of cereal for breakfast, some soup, or even a slice of your favourite cake can be pretty great. Filling the freezer with a few hearty meals might be helpful too.

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9. Don't be afraid of silences.

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The best you can do right now is quite simple: Just listen. But remember you're not a therapist, you can't fix someone's depression, and you're not going to have a solution for every problem they're facing. If your friend isn't able to articulate everything they're feeling, don't be afraid to sit in silence for a bit. Just being there while they figure out how to voice some of the chaos that's going on in their head is more than enough.

10. Buy them a brand new notebook.

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There's something incredibly hopeful about opening an empty notebook. You could encourage your friend to start a bullet journal so they can track their moods and triggers. Or they might prefer to use the notebook as a sketchbook or a place to store good memories and things they're grateful for.

11. Arrange an activity that doesn't involve alcohol.

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While it might seem that reaching for a glass of wine when you're feeling shit is a good idea, it'll only intensify those toxic feelings your friend is harbouring. Instead, arrange activities that don't involve having to drink. If your friend is OK with going outside you could go to a gallery, a pottery painting class, or a trip to the zoo. If you guys stay indoors you could play board games, hold an at-home spa day, or listen to true crime podcasts.

12. Offer to help them establish a routine.

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Psychologist Rollo May wrote in his book Love and Will (1969) that "Depression is an inability to construct a future", which will ring painfully true for a lot of people. Establishing some structure to your day won't magically allow you to see that your life does have a future, but it will allow you to regain control and prevent you from feeling helpless under the weight of depression. If your friend is open to this idea, help them organise their day, offer to wake them up if they need to get up on time, or go for a walk if they need to get out of the house before it gets dark.

13. Make them a mixtape.

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The playlist doesn't have to be filled with GET HAPPY NOW music – it can be slow, sensitive, and thoughtful. The best is if you select songs that remind you of your friend or loved one and the memories you share. If you don’t know how in the world you’re going to burn a CD, let alone a cassette, it’s perfectly OK to stick to Spotify and add songs into a list. You can add an extra touch by personalising the list with a photo and some notes.

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14. Encourage them to seek help.

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Depression is serious; you can't wish your way out of it. Despite all your best intentions, there's not one thing you can do to magic your friend's depression away. Sometimes the only way out is to make them see that they need professional help. Start with a trip to their GP – get them to tell their doctor what's been going on and they'll be able to refer your friend to a relevant treatment/support plan.

15. Inform people who are close to them if things are taking a bad turn.

You'll want to protect your friend's privacy and keep their trust, but if you think anyone around them should know about what's happening it's OK to reach out. Choose wisely: Don't tell people you think will make the situation worse.

16. Take a step back if it's getting too much.

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While your friend might be going through a difficult time, make sure you're not neglecting your own wellbeing. Focus on being well rested and make sure you have someone else you can vent to. Also pay close attention to your body. If you feel yourself getting ill or over-stressed it may be time to take a break.

Being there for someone with a mental health condition can be emotionally draining, especially if you feel guilty for all the times you're not there, when you're busy with something else. Remember there's only so much you can do. You can support them every step of the way, but your friend has to do a lot of the hard work themselves.

If you need information and practical advice on depression, you can call the Mind infoline on 0300 123 3393 (9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday), if you're in the UK.

You can call the Samaritans for confidential support if you’re experiencing feelings of distress or despair on 116 123 (UK), 116 123 (ROI).

And you can call the Crisis Call Center at 1-800-273-8255 at any time of the day if you’re based in the US.

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